Don’t Buy Snake Oil!

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December 16th, 2022
Back Don’t Buy Snake Oil!

People have sometimes asked me why I don’t write more information on slot machines, especially given the fact that one of the many hats I wear is that of a slot Advantage Player.

The main reason that I don’t spend a lot of time discussing slots, other than AP slots, is because I don’t really know a ton about them.

Don’t worry, that’s not a knock on me, what I really mean is that I do not know a ton about most individual machines. The reason why is that PAR Sheets, which are what explain the RTP’s, probabilities and payouts structure (and that, only sometimes) tend to be pretty closely guarded information. For that reason, even when I do suspect that a slot can be played at an advantage, I will generally only dissect an Empirical analysis of 1,000, or so, plays.

Even then, I have to rely on a lot of assumptions. The biggest assumption that I have to rely on is that I have to give an expected value to Free Games, which you aren’t going to see very many of in 1,000 base spins, but can be worth as much as 40% of the game’s total RTP.

With that, there are no real blanket assertions that can be made about slot machines, which brings us to today’s article.

THE FRAMING

Originally, I was going to use this information for an, “Ask Mission,” page, but this article seems like a better use for sharing the discussion. Over on the Wizard of Vegas forums, you can find the conversation that will follow:

Roberto21: Hi guys,

I’ve watched a lot of Cowboy Slots on YouTube and I get confused whenever they talk about a game’s volatility being a better strategic decision than a game’s payback percentage when finding a winning slot machine.

If you take my example, what would be the optimal play? Say you play a slot machine with two game configurations: a high volatile version and a low volatile version, both set with the same payback percentage.

If your goal was to try to win the top line progressive of say $5000 with a $100 bankroll, betting, say, $5 a spin, would you play the low volatile version or the high volatile version if it was only a single visit? What about if you planned to repeat it over 10 visits? Would it make a difference to your chances of winning that prize if you played the low vs high volatile version?

Thanks for any input, this stuff really confuses me.

Brandon James “Mission146”: The only thing that would make a difference in winning the top prize would be knowing the probability of that specific result. In theory, one slot machine with a higher probability of winning the top prize than a separate slot machine could still have lesser overall volatility.

For example, one close comparison is 100% Jacks or Better and 100.067% Double Double Bonus:

As you can see, not only does the JoB have the greater top prize (It is just 9/6 with a Royal to make 100%), but that top prize is also more likely to be won by the player due to strategy. However, if you plug both of these games into the WoO Calculator, you will see that the Variance is roughly 12 points higher with the DDB game.

With that, I don't think any assumptions can be made vis-a-vis top jackpot probability just based on overall volatility.

I think what they might be suggesting is that machines with greater volatility lend to a better opportunity to have a winning day, which could be generally true. For example, a 95% machine with zero volatility would just mean that you bet $5.00 and automatically get a return of $4.75 every time, so you could ONLY lose on a machine like that.

Jacks or Better compared to DDB is another good example of that. We can use the Beating Bonuses simulator here:

And, plugging that in, see a winning session percentage of about 30% over 10k hands.

The DDB yields a much higher win percentage, per 10k hand session, which is kind of the nature of the two games. With DDB, there are many paths to having a profitable 10k hands because of all the quads whereas, with JoB, it's mostly just slow losing until you hit a Royal.

As far as the individual top jackpot goes, the short answer is it just depends on the probability of that jackpot. The higher volatility machine will often have a higher top jackpot probability, but it is not necessarily so.

With that, what I dispelled, immediately, was the notion that more volatility automatically means that the jackpot on a machine is more likely for a player to hit.

Those are the sorts of general statements that I can’t stand individuals making, when they are purporting to be giving gambling advice, because there are very few statements that can even be made about slot machines that are always true.

Fortunately, Roberto was extremely cooperative and willing to discuss his observations that he got from the Cowboy Slots Youtube channel, so we were able to continue:

Roberto21: Thanks for the detailed response. I should add that I’m assuming the odds of hitting the jackpot are the same for both versions, but either way it seems like your chances of winning it on any given day are higher for the high volatile version, based on what you’re saying?

I should also add that Cowboy Slots advocate for low volatile slot machines in terms of increasing your chances of coming out a winner. But like you say, at the extreme end, with zero volatility, a player has no chance of walking out ahead so I would argue that’s a worse strategy.. I guess if you look at it in terms of limiting your losses the case could be made that the low volatile version is a better choice in the short term, but if both versions have the same overall payback percentage, what is the point of applying a loss limit strategy rather than a potential winning strategy? If your goal is to ultimately win during your casino visit..

I just think the blanket statement they make that ‘low volatile machines are the best to play’ is a little misleading. Yeah, your chances of losing are lower, but are your chances of winning higher? I would think not.

Brandon James “Mission146”: If we assume the same overall return percentage for both machines, then generally, I think a player is more likely to have a winning session on a higher volatility game, depending partially on how many spins the session consists of. For example, Jacks or Better has a lower probability of gain for a 10k session of hands than DDB based on the above, however, if the session is only 100 hands instead, then JoB offers a greater probability of winning a session mostly owing to the fact that Two Pair (a very frequent hand) pays two-for-one as opposed to Even Money.

See? So, everyone wants to make grand and sweeping generalizations of what game does what...what game is more likely to yield a win and it can't be done. In order to compare two games, you would want to do the following:

1.) Know the return percentages.

2.) Establish a bet amount for each game.

3.) Establish how many trials are to be played.

4.) Know the probabilities and pays for every single outcome.

5.) Bankroll

Knowing all of that, which slot players generally will not and do not, you could compare two games with absolute certainty.

Of course, I can make a generalization and say that more volatility yields a better probability of having winning results on a negative expectation game over a large sample size of results where the overall RTP is the same for both games. That's fine, but it doesn't quantify sample size. Using Beating Bonuses and comparing JoB to Double Bonus (because I am not putting DDB pays and probabilities in by hand again) here's what I get comparing JoB to DB..and I have modified DB regular quads to pay 52.5-For-1 in order to make the House Edge closer to the same:

100 Hands: DB: About 30.7%, JoB: Generally Over 39%, sometimes over 39.5%

500 Hands: DB: Over 39% JoB About 36.5%-37.5%

With that, the number of hands played matters. With one hand, the probability of profit on JoB is obviously higher because it has a greater overall percentage of profitable outcomes due to how Two Pair pays. With the 500 hand sample, however, we are starting to see more players hitting quads, which don't help as much on JoB.

Bankroll is also a relevant factor because, for my simulations, I made it such that a total bust out was impossible. When you factor in the potential for a very limited bankroll, then in terms of a single session, you might have a greater probability of a winning session on the less volatile machine because the greater volatility machine may also result in busting out more quickly.

So, the short answer is: There is no short answer.

What I was hoping to prevail upon him is that I would need to know ALL of the technicals of a given slot machines, as well as what the player’s bankroll and goals are, in order to even begin to achieve recommending a slot that would suit a player’s goals.

Once again, there are no absolute statements that can be made. One of the reasons that I used Video Poker as an example is because we KNOW what the paytables and probabilities (assuming optimal strategy) are for that game, but goal-oriented playing advice would still, even then, depend on the specific parameters that the player has in terms of both bankroll and how they define a, “Session.”

What we should also establish is that session goals absolutely do not matter. Life is all one big session, so if the player plays five days each consisting of a session of 100 hands, then that is not fundamentally different from playing a 500 hand session all in one sitting.

Of course, we will get more into that in a bit.

First, Roberto wants to know if the higher volatility game is the more likely one to yield a top jackpot. 

Roberto21: Thanks for your answer and clarification DRich, and you’re right, the odds for hitting the top jackpot could be set different for high vs low volatile versions, but let’s assume they’re not.

I’m thinking specifically of a linked progressive on a multi-denomination machine with the same payback percentage for each denomination, but differing number of paylines. I assume the odds of hitting the jackpot are the same across the board, but the version with the less paylines (and therefore, higher volatility) is still the better version to play in the short term if your goal is to win the progressive with a limited bankroll.

Brandon James “Mission146:” If the probability of hitting the top jackpot is the same for both machines, then the probability of hitting the top jackpot, per spin, is obviously the same.

That being the case, if the goal is to hit the top jackpot, you get into the question of which machine configuration might allow for the most spins on a limited bankroll.

Going back to the Beating Bonuses simulator, I have given the player a bankroll of 100 bets with the goal of playing 1,000 hands of both Jacks or Better and Double Bonus, again adjusting for the regular quads on DB to pay 52.5 so that the House Edge of both is nearly the same based on their starting House Edges.

With that, the probability of finishing 1,000 hands with a profit is much lower on Double Bonus because a very high percentage of players (more than 45%) lose the 100 units and fail to even play 1,000 hands. The bust out rate on JoB simulations is 15-17%, depending on the simulation, so about a third of that of DB.

By necessity, that means that more hands of JoB were played, therefore, the players were more likely to hit a Royal Flush (top jackpot) playing JoB because they got a greater average number of hands due to the low volatility.

If I increase the goal number of hands to 10,000 on a 100 bet bankroll, then more than 86% of the DB players bust out before even playing that many hands. The bust rate of just over 85% for JoB, trying to last 10,000 hands, is slightly lower, but not much different. The overall profit rate is roughly the same because the majority of players who have survived the 10,000 hands at all are ahead in both cases.

Of course, it took the JoB players longer to bust out, on average, so more of them had more opportunities to hit a royal.

When I make it 5,000 hands, nearly 72% of JoB players bust out before they can make it and over 79-80% of DB players bust out.

2,500 hands to be played and more than 68% of DB players bust out before they can play them whereas just over 50% of JoB players bust out.

25,000 hands and more than 92% of DB players do not make it while this is under 92% for JoB players...and the JoB players who busted out, based on previous simulations, played a greater average number of hands.

So, when you isolate the probability of hitting the top jackpot based on a certain bankroll, lower volatility can sometimes yield a greater probability of doing so assuming same probability per spin and same RTP otherwise because the lower volatility can also mean that you can survive a greater number of spins, on average.

The short answer remains: There is no short answer.

The best part of that response is the words, “There is no short answer.”

That’s what players need to know about slot machines; there is no short answer to beating them, to stretching out your money, to increasing the probability of hitting a jackpot or to anything else, unless I can compare the machines side by side (which would require knowing all the pays and probabilities, which I usually wouldn’t) and knowing the player’s specific circumstances.

However, one thing that I was able to find is, if your goal is to hit a top jackpot on a limited bankroll, then lower volatility is sometimes better!

As we have established above, the reason less volatility can sometimes be better, if you have the goal of hitting a top jackpot, is that volatility works both ways.

Let’s go back to the comparison of a ridiculous 95% RTP game that has zero volatility. Imagine you are a player making $1 bets with a $100 bankroll; since the game has zero volatility, you would automatically lose $0.05 every single spin. With that, I can guarantee that you will play exactly 2,000 spins before you bust out.

Games with higher volatility will often see players busting out on $100, taking $1 spins, before they have even played 2,000 spins. In fact, for several Video Poker games (such as Deuces Wild) the player would bust out more than 50% of the time only playing $1 total bets on a $1 bankroll, and any number of slot machines have WAY more variance than that game!

It also sounds as though Roberto was referring to slot machines at the $1 denomination, which tend to not have what I call, “Partial returns,” (you ‘win’ on the spin, but have still lost money) quite as often because you are playing fewer paylines. As a result, the overall hit rate on those kinds of machines tends to be significantly lower, so it is not at all unusual for a player to bet $5 total and drop $500 in barely more than 100 spins. Again, the volatility of (most low payline) slot machines is already through the roof compared to something like Video Poker.

In EXTREMELY general terms, if a player had a limited bankroll and two machines had the same RTP and same probability of a top jackpot, then the player would actually be better off playing the lower volatility machine if the only goal was to have the best chance of hitting the top jackpot.

OTHER MYTHS TO DISPEL

I feel like I do this once every few years, but I think there are some other slot machine myths that need to be dispelled.

1.) Daily Win Goals/Limited Sessions:

The first thing that many players suggest, especially for land-based casinos, is that you should play to a specific win goal and then go home for the day. The ridiculous extension of this notion that life is not just one big sessions is the notion that the machines themselves care about how many spins you take, which is ridiculous.

It was, with that, I wrote a scathing review of the Professor Slots channel, a Youtube channel where almost every piece of ‘advice’ he gives is wrong. When it comes to slots, we tend to be more devoted to the facts and trying to figure out which bonuses are the strongest.

The only good news that can come from playing to a certain money goal, then quitting, is at least you have stopped playing for the day. Assuming that a person is playing slots with a negative expectation (less than 100% RTP) to begin with, then the less that they play, the less they are expected to lose.

Beyond that, daily goals do not accomplish anything. A player’s lifetime expected result will remain the sum of the expected loss of every single spin they have ever taken in their lives, and there is simply no getting around that fact. In this context, your actual results are actually pretty irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you have daily goals, only spin a certain number of times per day or simply refuse to quit playing until you lose everything—your expected result is the sum of your expected loss for each individual spin.

Players will ask, “Well, what if I play $100 every day for five days as opposed to $500 all in one day?” My answer would be: If you are playing in a land casino, then it sounds like you are actually spending more money to do that because of the gas to get to and from the casino and your time costs!

The only thing I will really say about session win goals is, whatever the win goal is, the bet amount has to be appropriate to even give you a chance of hitting the goal

For example, if you take $500 into the casino and your goal is to double it or lose it all, then you are usually not going to double it if you are only taking $0.40 spins. In order for that to happen, you would either need to hit the top jackpot or string a few top-tier pays together within a short period of time. So, if you must have goals, you should make sure that you are playing such that your daily goals are realistically attainable, or alternatively, accept the fact that you will almost never hit them.

On the other hand, if you only wanted to go in with $20 and your goal was to double it, I don’t think $0.40 bets necessarily give you the best chance to do so, but it should happen a reasonable percentage of the time.

Whatever your goals are, it’s important to know that there is no ONE slot machine that you could pick that will ensure your goals are met, or it wouldn’t be gambling. Even if there is a slot machine that makes your goals more likely to achieve than some other machine, you usually wouldn’t know which machine to pick anyway because players almost never have specific information about the pays and probabilities, as they would on Video Poker.

2.) No Machine is Ever, “Due” (Almost)

The next thing that players need to know is that no slot machine is ever, “Due,” to hit, with exception only to certain variable-state machines and machines with must-hit jackpots.

For that reason, players thinking that a cold machine has to turn around eventually, and players thinking that a machine running hot is more likely to do so, are all taking invalid positions. Assuming that the machine is fair and is operating on a pseudo-RNG, then the machine will not care what it did the previous spin, the previous ten spins or the previous million spins. The only time this will ever be different is if the machine is, by design, variable-state or has a must-hit (or equivalent) feature, which is another form of variable-state machine.

I used to try to help out players in the casino sharing, “Tips,” with one another so that none of them would ever fall into these mental traps, but I gave up. It’s like trying to take water out of the ocean, one cup at a time, it simply can’t be done.

Besides, the players actively want to believe these myths, except smart players don’t…which is why I expect that most people who have read this far wouldn’t buy into myths such as these. One thing I can always count on here at LCB is that my readers are already more gambling savvy than most!

3.) Jackpot Probability…Often Doesn’t Mean Much:

For most players, especially if you break your gambling up into the colloquial, “Sessions,” then the probability of hitting a jackpot isn’t really going to mean much to you over the long-term.

In saying that, I’m referring to top jackpots, which tend to have astronomical odds against. When we compare them to something like Video Poker, where a Royal Flush will occur every 40,000, or so, hands…top jackpots on slot machines often have longer odds than that

With that, you might be changing the probability of hitting a jackpot in a session from almost zero to…well, still almost zero, but slightly further away from zero than before.

For illustration, let’s suppose that I had a slot machine with a jackpot, “Cycle,” of 50,000 spins, which means that’s how long it takes, on average, to hit that jackpot. Imagine that I am betting $5 on a $100 daily bankroll, so I start with a base of twenty spins. Going back to the volatility of machines, and assuming my goal is to hit the jackpot or lose $100, you might think getting a few more spins in helps with the jackpot, and it does, but not all that much.

Just for example, let’s say that a lower volatility machine (same RTP) would see me last an average of 48 spins before the $100 is lost, whereas, the higher volatility machine is such that I can only expect to average 35 such spins. Using a binomial distribution, and a 1 in 50,000 to hit jackpot, my probability of hitting one jackpot (assuming I’ll stop if I do) goes from roughly 0.0009595489383378286 to roughly 0.0006997620523523373.

In other words, on the lower volatility machine, I’m still only expected to hit that jackpot one in every 1,042 days (roughly) as opposed to once every 1,429 days.

Is that better? I guess. How much is the jackpot? If the jackpot is $5,000, for example, then that would mean that I will have lost $104,100 in order to win $5,000 (slightly more or less) on one of those days, based on the average number of days it takes for it to happen. I’m no expert, but that doesn’t sound to me like a very good investment.

We can see that this makes sense because, based on the average of 48 spins, taking 1,042 * 48 gives us 50,016 spins, which is roughly the probability we assigned of hitting that jackpot.

With that, players who only target top jackpots without a very good reason to do so can expect either many losing days, or if you don’t have short, “Daily sessions,” extremely prolonged periods of losing. Actually, depending on the House Edge of the game, it won’t be too long before you are down so much money that you could never realistically hope to hit enough jackpots quickly enough to recover.

“But, Mission, didn’t you just say the machine doesn’t care what it did the spin before? Isn’t it possible that the machine will have a jackpot two spins in a row?” Well, yeah, that’s true, but the probability is still only 1 in 50,000 the spin after the jackpot was hit. In theory, the top jackpot could hit twenty times in a row, but that’s almost never, perhaps never, going to actually happen.

So, you can give yourself a, “Better chance,” of hitting a top jackpot on a limited bankroll, but you still usually won’t.

4.) Land Casinos are Even Worse! 

One generalization I can make with some confidence is that land casino slot machines are usually worse than the ones found online.

That’s not because the jackpot probability for a top pay is lower; that would depend on the machine. The reason land casino slot machines are generally worse, especially lower denomination machines, is because the RTP is often well under 90%, which would be almost unheard of for any online game at a half decent casino!

In other words, the volatility almost ceases to matter, unless you are playing a machine in an advantage state, because they are designed to eat players up extremely quickly, for the most part. By expectation, a player betting $1, with a bankroll of $100, on a machine that has an RTP of 95% should take an average of 2,000 spins before losing the $100. In contrast, the player on a machine with an 85% RTP expects to only take 667 spins.

That doesn’t even account for volatility! Depending on how the probability and payout structure is, as we saw when we compared Double Bonus Video Poker to Jacks or Better above, players with a limited bankroll can often expect not to even last half of those 667 spins.

YOU KNOW…IT’S FUNNY…

The thing that I find funny about all of these abundant myths about slot machines is, of all of the games in casinos that one would think there were no winning strategies for (assuming you are playing at a negative expectation), slot machines would be it.

For one thing, slot machines don’t even lend themselves to betting systems particularly well. Most slot machines don’t have a mechanism by which most players could even try a Martingale, and even if they could, they could not do so for very long as they would run into the Maximum bet (or highest denomination machine) pretty quickly. One thing that attracts people to betting systems is the fact that they tend to involve games that have a near 50% probability of winning an individual trial, or sometimes over 50%, when it comes to betting systems that rely upon taking several numbers on Roulette, or multiple bets at the Craps Table on the same roll, or things like that.

Another thing that most betting systems rely upon is the fact that the target games, which are almost always Table Games, have a relatively low House Edge. The House Edge for online slot machines tends not to be too high, sometimes not even THAT much higher than Video Poker, but they are still substantially higher than games such as Blackjack and Baccarat, or higher than bets such as Pass and Don’t Pass at the Craps Table.

One would think that players would look at slot machines and just think, “These are for entertainment purposes only because they are unbeatable.” Those players would be wrong, of course (especially land casinos), because some variable-state slot machines are quite beatable, if you have analyzed them and know when you should or should not play. However, that would be a good thing for recreational players to think, because then they would not think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to winning on slot machines.

And, yet, the myths continue to grow as more and more people come up with newer, and increasingly ridiculous, ideas. The fundamental truth of the matter is that slot machines do not exist to be beaten; they exist to beat the players, and usually pretty quickly.

EASY MONEY

I don’t know why people would come up with these nonsensical theories that would lead them to believe that there is any easy money to be found on slot machines. Granted, some variable-state machines can be pretty easy to figure out, once you know others, usually because the concept of the gimmick behind the variable state is similar to that on another machine.

But, some players don’t even want that, or are unwilling to accept that.

Basically, certain players expect that there is some simple formula to picking literally any slot machine in the casino, sitting down, and winning at will.

Of course, that can’t possibly be true, or there wouldn’t be casinos. The one thing that players who would buy into slot myths need to remember, if nothing else, is that casinos don’t get built on winners. Even if there was a super easy method by which you could pick any slot machine in the place, or bounce around on several different machines, and essentially print free money, the casino would close that method off fairly quickly.

I also don’t understand why individuals, such as Professor Slots (for one example) would perpetuate such myths about making easy money unless they were making money of their own. Oh, wait, he has a Youtube channel and charges for lessons…now I get it. I guess there is some easy money being made, just not by the people who are going into casinos and playing slot machines based on the advice of these charlatans; that said, a few of those people will hit high pays, just on pure luck, and will give glowing reviews.

When that happens, it’s important to remember that most casino patrons who have winning days on slots are not using any methods whatsoever, much less paying for the supposed information. As with most slot players, they have lost money over the course of their lives such that the jackpot is all but statistically meaningless, and if they kept strict records of their play, they would know that.

BUT…MISSION…DON’T YOU..

Don’t I do what? Write articles about promotions and variable-state machines sometimes?

Of course I do, but I defy you to find one person who I have ever directly charged for any of this information.

Furthermore, I’m not worried about a ton of players using the information that I have shared, because most of them will not do so. A few of them will, and that’s awesome if they do, but most of them will not, so sharing the information isn’t really detrimental to me.

IF I WANTED TO BE A SLOT ADVANTAGE PLAYER…:

My first piece of advice is: Don’t try to be a slot advantage player.

That’s not because you won’t win if you are good at it, because you probably will, long-term, but because it’s not particularly fun.

Half the time, what’s going to happen is that you are going to walk into a land casino, look around at all of the machines, see there is nothing in any kind of a positive state, then walk right back out.

About one-quarter of the time, you will find one, or more, advantage plays, but you will lose money on that casino visit anyway even though you had the edge, such is variance.

The other 25% of the time, you will walk in, find plays and leave profitably for that visit, which will more than cover the losses of losing visits, but it’s generally not going to work out to a ton of money per hour when you compare that to the losing days and the days where you simply didn’t find anything in a playable state. Card running is a different matter, but as I have discussed elsewhere, is a whole new kind of headache.

CONCLUSION

With that, there is no easy way to win on slot machines. Anyone who tells you otherwise has either bought into a myth, or has some mechanism by which they make money by perpetuating false information.

Which appears to be a lucrative business, not that I want any part of it. Youtube channels promoting gambling myths seem to dwarf channels that actually have good information on Variable-State machines, but that’s because people are looking for easy money in one of the world’s least likely places to find it-land casinos.

If you want to play slot machines and get the not so easy money, then it is going to take a lot of studying, observing, testing, analysis and…most importantly…time.

Time that you will never have back, regardless of how much you may win.

The smartest players, I think, are the ones who only play with money they can afford to lose, don’t believe in any myths or betting systems as being magical keys to untold riches and just go into casinos, both land and online, and play for the fun of it every once in a while. And, if you take a good bonus in the meantime and profit, great, but it’s definitely not the best way to spend the better part of your waking life.

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